Cruise CEO Dan Ammann is stepping down, according to a late-afternoon announcement from the business’s parent company, General Motors. Kyle Vogt, who was the business’s initial CEO and co-founded the autonomous car startup, will take over the post on an interim basis. Vogt is Cruise’s president and chief technology officer. Wesley Bush, the former chairperson and CEO of Northrop Grumman and a member of the General Motors board of directors will join the Cruise board, according to GM.
The reason for Ammann’s departure was not disclosed by GM or Cruise. The retirement of the longstanding GM executive was unexpected, and Cruise staffers who asked not to identify were taken aback. The news was communicated with Cruise staff on Thursday, the same day it was released to the public; with one employee remarking that it appeared unplanned and disorganized.
Staff waited more than 10 minutes to hear from GM chairperson and CEO Mary Barra, who was unable to join a virtual town hall meeting designed to explain the move, as one example of the lack of preparedness around Ammann’s departure. Vogt had to use his smartphone to put her on speakerphone so she could connect with Cruise employees.
Ammann was the driving force behind General Motors’ original investment in and acquisition of Cruise. He was in charge of General Motors’ connection with Cruise. In addition, he was the only person Vogt had communication with on a regular basis. Onstage at SF Disrupt in September 2018, Vogt highlighted his relationship with Ammann.
Ammann also brought a set of skills to the role. Ammann’s first responsibility when he joined GM as vice president of finance and treasurer in 2010 was to oversee the company’s first public offering. Ammann’s hiring as Cruise CEO seemed to imply that an IPO was a possibility at the time.
In late 2018, Ammann was named CEO of Cruise. In January of this year, he formally took control. The decision appeared reasonable at the time. By the time Ammann took control, Cruise had evolved from a modest start-up with 40 people to a company with over 1,000. While Ammann pushed the firm to grow, there several goals that were missed, most notably the aim to create a commercial robotaxi operation in 2019. Along with the rest of the business, which has seen a wave of consolidation, the company has spent the last two years edging closer to that commercialization target.
At its investor day in October and its branded “Under the Hood” event the following month, GM presented a bullish autonomous car strategy. Ammann spoke on the company’s plans to create a commercial robotaxi and delivery service, starting with modified Chevy Bolts and eventually growing to tens of thousands of purpose-built Origin AVs on the road over the next few years. According to many individuals with direct information, Cruise’s go-to-market VP Lucas Watson left the firm last week. While his resignation appears to be unconnected, it raises concerns about Cruise’s business operations, which Ammann and Watson would have been focusing on.